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No job for an optimist? Yvo de Boer throws in the towel

Somehow I wasn’t really surprised to hear yesterday that Yvo de Boer, who has headed the UNFCCC, the climate secretariat, since 2006, was resigning as of July 1st.
I can remember interviewing him when he first came to Bonn and having the feeling this man was a professional eternal optimist and, of course, a born diplomat. The diplomacy stayed – most of the time – but the optimism couldn’t last. Although he’s too loyal to say it – I’m sure the collapse of the Copenhagen climate conference must have been the last straw after years (he worked on climate for the Dutch government and the EU beforehand) of struggling to bring about climate agreements in the face of all the international wrangling and power games.
You really can’t blame him for giving up and switching to private industry, although it will be hard to find a suitable successor at this critical time in the negotiations, with the next big conference in Mexico at the end of the year, the Kyoto Protocol running out in 2012 and the world wondering whether the UN is the right forum for the negotiations after the Copenhagen flop.
Yvo de Boer and his team were sidelined in the final phase of Copenhagen, while the USA and China fought out their battle for influence. The “Copenhagen Accord” is a toothless document that wasn’t accepted by everybody and binds nobody.
Of course the UN climate chief has to take some share of the blame for the Copenhagen fiasco. Preparing that conference was his job as well as the Danish government’s.
Nevertheless, it’s a shame to see him leave like this.
Remember the Bali conference 2 years ago, when de Boer left the room in tears at a point where it appeared the conference might fail? A lot of people thought that would be the end. But the conference achieved results after all and he carried on and was widely regarded as the “human face” of climate politics.
Now he’s finally had enough, and is leaving the UN climate ship in very troubled waters, with the economic crisis, Obama crippled by domestic problems and the Chinese determined to develop at all costs and reject any international control.
The chances of a binding post-Kyoto agreement being achieved or even set on the right track at the Mexico conference at the end of this year are slim. And time, the scientists tell us – and Yvo de Boer was convinced of it – is running out.


February 19, 2010 | 9:15 am